Sunday, August 18, 2019

My Monarch Caterpillar Adventure

When I did the usual rounds of my vegetable garden this morning, I saw one of the stems of my milkweed plant covered with tiny yellow spots. They were moving. I know nothing about yellow moving spots, so I googled it and found out that they were aphids, known to damage milkweed plants. I cut off the stem and put the whole thing in a bowl of water. Aphids do not qualify for equal rights protection, in my book.

My milkweed plants are sacred territory. I planted them for the sole purpose of attracting monarch butterflies, which are fast disappearing. If you don't know this, monarchs can only live off of milkweed. The plant provides all the nourishment the monarch needs to transform the caterpillar into the adult butterfly.

Lo and an behold, I saw a magnificent yellow and black striped caterpillar on one of the leaves. And a few feet away, hidden under a leaf was another one. I named them Julie and Max. Maybe Julie is a boy and Max is a girl, but that’s ok. Now, every day, I check on them.

Yesterday Max disappeared. I checked the underside of leaves, the stems, the tops. No Max. Maybe a bird had taken him? Maybe he didn’t like his residence and had moved on, although I doubt he could have traveled far, even with all his legs.

Today, as I was watering my pepper plants, I saw Max lying curled up in a spiral on one of the leaves. He wasn’t moving, so I thought he must be dead. Just to be sure, I snipped the leaf and gently slid Max back on one of the milkweed leaves. Almost immediately his antennae wiggled, his head popped up and he began to crawl up and down, making constant U-turns. What was he doing? Did the fall cause brain-damage? Did he loose his sense of direction?

He then found a milk-weed pod and started to scrape off the skin until some milk came out which he started to drink. ‘Good old Max, you sure gave me a fright’, I thought.

Julie is no trouble at all. Since I discovered her, she hasn’t moved much from her original spot. She eats, sleeps and poops a lot. When one leaf is half eaten, she moves on to the next, then takes a nap. Maybe I am imagining it, but it looks like she is gaining weight. I read that a caterpillar’s skin doesn’t grow or stretch, so it has to go through 5 moultings before it turns into a chrysalis. Cannot wait for that to happen. Read more...

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Our Trip through Oregon

Traveling has been my middle name for most of my childhood and my teenage years. From my native Hungary, via Paris and Amsterdam, through London and Madrid, I finally landed in this gigantic country called America. I am not sure why I chose the US as my last landing strip. I don’t think I chose it, really. I just wanted to leave where I was at the time. You know, thinking: ‘I need a break from my life. I need a vacation. I have this green card anyway, thanks to my older brother’s sponsorship, who was already an American citizen, so why not give the New World a try?

Which I did, thinking that going on a cross country trip for a few months and getting a taste of America would satisfy the remnants of my need for wanderlust. Then I could go back to my life in Amsterdam. I landed on the East Coast, again not really knowing why, except that it felt a lot more like Europe than other parts of America.

All of this is so long ago, it almost feels like someone else’s life. Then I got married and the cross-country trip morphed into a honeymoon. I stayed put for decades. I love that expression ‘staying put’. I stayed put so I could raise a family, deploy a career, and I became completely embedded in my new country. I knew I had the biggest back yard anyone could wish for, just in case my wanderlust started to tug at my sleeves again.

I had had my share of traveling through Europe, but it is a different cup of tea altogether. Many countries are the size of postage stamps and before the Schengen Agreement, it was a big deal to travel to other countries. Visas, permits, drivers’ licenses etc. Here you can drive through your backyard for days, weeks, and still not have to speak another language or even know which state you are in. In the tiniest nooks and crannies of this vast country, you can fuel up on a MacDonald or a Starbucks coffee. No matter which motel you land in, be it in Missouri or Wyoming, you can always look forward to the same watery coffee and soggy breakfast sausages (it wasn’t hard for me to give those up, after I became vegan).

I am more than old enough to remember the Howard Johnson roadside restaurants serving that same watery coffee, soggy breakfast sausages and home fries. Who could ask for more? The HoJo’s followed you like the moon at night. No matter how far you traveled, they were there. This country is custom made for traveling.

So let me take you with me on my trip to Oregon.

Off to San Francisco
There was a time in my life when I would have thought nothing of hitch-hiking cross country, but now I was glad to pay for extra leg room on our flight to San Francisco. Packed like sardines in a smelly can, I was counting the hours until we would land and the flight could be catalogued as just another bad memory.

We would stay in the city by the Bay for a short week, enjoy the company of my seven-year old grandson Marshall and his parents and then explore Oregon with my husband Hans. Funny how distances seem to grow the farther out West you go. In Europe you have decent, bite sized kilometers. Here in New England, kilometers have expanded to miles, but distances are still reasonably digestible. It is when you find yourself in California, the third largest state in the country, that you realize you were living in a bubble. It is the distances on the East Coast that are the exception. The rest of the country is unimaginably large. I felt like an ant living on the surface of a balloon that was inflating. It got bigger and bigger and I got smaller and smaller. Read more...

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Mass Shooting Victims: 250; Other Murders: 17,250

August 3-4. Two more mass shootings. This time, in one day. El Paso, 20 dead, Dayton, 10. 

So far, this year’s death count for mass shootings is 58 (Source: Mother Jones). Annualized, this comes to about 100. This is roughly the annual average over the past decade or so (except for a couple of years which experienced a very large event, such as the Las Vegas mass shooting in 2017, where 58 people died.
Using a different definition, Wikipedia’s number for 2019 so far is much higher: 246. (See Mass Shootings in the US ). For the full year, this would be over 400. However, the vast majority of the events on Wikipedia’s list resulted in only one death. So One could quibble about what constitutes mass shootings and what does not.

So here we go again, with the same old refrain: The media, the politicians, the main talking points:

1. Most obviously: “We need (more and better) gun control. Outlaw assault weapons, do background checks, etc.” Correct.

2. This is a uniquely American phenomenon. It doesn’t exist in other comparable (highly developed) societies. Correct.

3. The main obstacle to progress consists of power groups such as the NRA and their toadies, largely GOP leaders such as Mitch McConnell. Correct.

4. The problem is mental illness. The problem is that the mentally ill have access to guns. Hmm... Isn’t this subsumed under item #1, above? Do the Europeans, the Australians, the Canadians, the Japanese have less mental illness? I doubt it. So this argument is a diversionary tactic by the defenders of the status quo.